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February Library of the Month: Exploring the Beauty of Kohler Art Library

February 10, 2015


Kohler Art Library

Our February Library of the Month is the Kohler Art Library, with a focus on its growing collection of artist sketchbook facsimiles. We collaborated with Lyn Korenic to bring you a closer look at this impressive and expanding special collection, and how it’s impacting students.

Lyn Korenic, Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Kohler Art Library, flips through dozens of sketchbook facsimiles spread out on her office desk in Kohler. With each one, she points out the meticulous thought process drawn out by artists as diverse as Paul Cezanne and Jackson Pollock or Adolf Menzel and Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh : the sketchbooks : a facsimile of the artist’s sketchbooks in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum. London : The Folio Society ; Amsterdam : Van Gogh Museum, 2013.


“You can really see the artist work, and rework their ideas when you study their sketchbooks,” Korenic notes. “These books document the process of art, like a camera, capturing fleeting moments and ideas. Especially before photography, but even now, it is up to artists to capture their culture and show what life was like.”

The Artist Sketchbook Facsimile Collection resonates well with students, Korenic says, and, although non-circulating, is viewed regularly by classes in the Art and Design Studies Departments.

“This is a collection that students can relate to and understand,” Korenic says. “They’re in a mode where they can appreciate that sketchbooks are great ways to gather and generate ideas. They understand the importance of preserving these “ephemeral” documents for the seeds of information they contain.”

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Vincent van Gogh : the sketchbooks : a facsimile of the artist’s sketchbooks in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum. London : The Folio Society ; Amsterdam : Van Gogh Museum, 2013.

Kohler has a growing collection of over 50 sketchbook facsimiles, which have been reproduced to the exact sketchbook and notebook pages created by the artists. Everything from charcoal smudges, ink drips, scribblings, stains, or rips are reproduced to match the original artifact. The collection spans a variety of artists from the 15th-21st centuries, including Hans Baldung Grien, Jan Van Goyen, Hubert Robert, John Constable, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele, Le Corbusier, June Leaf, Richard Serra, Gerhard Richter, and many others.

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Sketchbooks from the Kohler’s collection.

“You can see the incredible difference in how each artist works. Some have a very heavy hand, others have a lighter one,” Korenic says. “But it’s fascinating to see what would catch an artist’s eye—a passerby, a farm or circus animal, a woman’s dress, a landscape view, or an architectural site. Some of the more contemporary sketchbooks are studies in mark making and journaling.”

Adding to the collection, to ensure it has the highest quality resources for students, staff, faculty, and the public to view, is a challenge that requires patience, and a lot of digging.

“I’m always looking to see what is out there. It is a really concerted effort,” Korenic says. “I have to stay on top of what’s coming out, because when a limited edition is released, it can sell out very quickly. The Vincent Van Gogh sketchbooks document four surviving sketchbooks in the Van Gogh Museum. I was lucky to be able to acquire one of the last available copies of that very important work.”

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Constable, John. Constable with his friends in 1806. Paris : Trianon Press ; San Francisco, Calif. : Genesis Publications, 1981. (Sketch is attributed to Lionell Bicknell Constable).

Korenic says she never knows when that next “must have” piece will appear. But just like any piece she looks to acquire, making sure she’s building collections that meet the needs of the students, faculty, and staff, is the most important mission.

“What drives this collection, just like any other collection, is what the classes need – whether drawing, design, visual culture, or others,” Korenic explains. “I love that people come in interested in these sketchbooks, and looking to learn from them. It is my job to ensure they can continue to do so. We are always grateful when donors support the Kohler Art Library with funding that can help purchase these special collections materials.”

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Paul Gauguin, a sketchbook. New York : Hammer Galleries, 1962.

Kohler, located in the Elvehjem Building, is a primary resource for materials and information on painting, drawing, architecture, sculpture, graphic arts, photography and decorative arts. The current exhibit is “Scripture Transfigured: Visualizing the Christian Bible from the Sixth to the Fifteenth Century,” which will be on display until March 15, 2015.